Minister for Justice Helen McEntee TD has announced the launch of a new qualification programme at University of Limerick to train Intermediaries who will help vulnerable people, including sexual abuse victims and children, when giving evidence in the justice system.
The programme is the first of its kind in Ireland and will equip professionals, usually with a background in speech and language therapy or a cognate discipline, with the skills and expertise necessary to assist witnesses who have communication difficulties in providing evidence.
On successful completion of the Professional Diploma in Intermediary Studies, a part-time course running over one year, graduates will be eligible to be placed on a panel to work within the Irish justice system.
The Registered Intermediary’s role will be to assist in the communication process, whether between lawyers and witnesses during trial or, earlier, during Garda interviews.
Minister McEntee said: “The O’Malley Review, which looked at what reforms might be introduced to protect victims of sexual violence during the investigation and prosecution of sexual offences, recommended that appropriately qualified intermediaries should be recruited and registered.
“I am delighted that my Department has been able to collaborate with the University of Limerick to provide a suitable course to train intermediaries to the required standard.
“Once qualified, they will have an essential role in assessing the communication needs of vulnerable witnesses and to advise An Garda Síochána, advocates and the court on the steps needed to assist such witnesses to give their best evidence,” Minister McEntee added.
The diploma is an interfaculty postgraduate training programme which will qualify CORU-registered health and social care practitioners to work as registered intermediaries in the Irish justice system.
Following best international guidelines, the programme has been designed to include four modules and a combination of online and face-to-face tutorials, delivered across the School of Law and the School of Allied Health at UL. It will ensure those who qualify have the competencies to provide intermediary interventions as part of all aspects of the legal process for both vulnerable witnesses and defendants in the context of Irish legislation.
The project team who designed the programme include Dr Aoife Gallagher, Dr Aine Kearns, Dr Alan Cusack and Professor Sean Redmond. The team believe that graduates of the programme will have a significant and enduring impact in promoting and safeguarding equal access to justice for all persons as mandated by both UN Sustainable Development Goal 16 and Article 13 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The programme builds on a series of related, ongoing, research projects within UL which collectively stand to greatly inform national policy with regard to the treatment of vulnerable persons in the Irish criminal process, including the rollout of Disability Awareness Training for members An Garda Síochána, the design of an Easy-Read Notice of Rights and a Review of Risk Assessment Custody Practices.
Dr Gallagher, who led on the project at UL, said: “We are delighted to have been successful in applying to work with the Department of Justice on designing and delivering this unique interfaculty programme between the School of Allied Health and the School of Law in addressing national policy needs.
“The values of the programme are aligned closely with the core values of all we do at UL in producing ethical graduates who are social reformers, motivated to contribute to a fairer society. We believe that the collaboration places UL at the forefront of national efforts to secure effective and meaningful participation for vulnerable individuals when engaging with the Irish justice system.”
Places for academic year 2022/2023 are fully funded by the Department of Justice. Entry requirements include a minimum of a second-class honours primary degree (2.2) and three full years practice experience as a CORU-registered Speech and Language Therapist, Occupational Therapist or Social Worker in Ireland.
The application process is now open. For further details on how to apply see here www.ul.ie/gps/intermediary-studies-professional-diploma.